We are UBC: Garcia’s Psychology of Competition Connected to the University of British Columbia

According to Times Higher Education, the University of British Columbia is one of the most competitive in Canada. In Garcia’s “The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective”, the authors outline a variety of individual and situational factors that affect how competitive an actor would be. Interestingly enough, the model put forth by Garcia ties in very nicely with Cooper’s “Contested Meaning of Prescription Stimulant Use in College Academics”, which was presented last Thursday. While reading Garcia’s article, I found myself relating the presented model and associated factors to my own experience in UBC and I decided to articulate my connections. Trying to fit every factor and how it relates to UBC would be nigh impossible so this article will focus on a select few, namely: dimensional relevance, incentive structures, and proximity to a standard.

One of the individual factors of competitiveness mentioned was “dimension relevance”. The claim was that people are more likely to be more competitive on “dimensions that are relevant or important to the self”. Of particular interest to me was the idea of “identity-based motivation”. According to Oyserman, Destin, and Britt, simply evoking an identity “increased motivation and [led to] better performance on dimensions relevant to that identity.” (p. 637). The University of British Columbia has, advertently or inadvertently, exploited that idea in their branding and marketing to current and potential students. The official motto is Tuum Est, “It Is Yours”. Alternatively, it can be translated as “it is up to you”, connoting a sense of ownership and responsibility among the student body. A commonly used tagline used by students and marketing alike is “I am UBC”, and prospective undergraduate students are directed to a site whose URL is you.ubc.ca These mottos, taglines, URLs, etc. not only give a sense of belonging to a community, but they evoke and lend an identity – that they are UBC. According to Garcia, this newfound identity will increase motivation and competitiveness amongst UBC students.

As a factor, incentive structures are categorized under situational factors. An obvious incentive structure in UBC is the grading system, but another incentive structure that one can look at is admission to majors and/or programs like the co-operative programs offered by many faculties at UBC. As stated in Cooper (2017), “the most commonly endorsed value associated with attending college was ‘to be very well-off financially’”. The expectation of future financial success is one of the many incentive structures found across UBC.

The final factor is proximity to a standard. Garcia claims that “rankings differentially increase competition” and that “competitiveness intensif[ies] in the proximity to a standard” (pp. 638-639). There is no universal, formal standard used for the ranking of universities, but a variety of sites and sources, including Maclean’s, Times Higher Education, and TopUniversities, consistently place UBC in the top 5 of universities across Canada, using various metrics including but not limited to academic reputation, education, and student satisfaction. Being close to that standard places pressure on UBC students (connecting to the idea of social category fault lines as a factor) and thus increases competitive behaviour.

As said by Shawn Pak, “we could never make a broad, sweeping claim about human psychology that wouldn’t have an exception to the rule” so these connections may not hold true for everyone. These factors are not a definite explanation of the competitiveness of and within the university, and Garcia himself acknowledges that future research is needed, especially vis-a-vis the interaction between individual and situational factors. However, these connections are relevant to all of us as students, and perhaps they will guide readers in their “competition with themselves”.

Image source: https://brand.ubc.ca/guidelines/downloads/logos-signatures-and-visual-identity-assets/

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